||It has been suggested that Park51 controversy be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (November 2010)|
An artist's rendering of the proposed Park51
|Location||45–51 Park Place, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.|
|Status||Planned; 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2)|
|Leadership||Feisal Abdul Rauf
|Groundbreaking||Late 2011 (est.)|
|Construction cost||$100 million|
|Height (max)||13 stories|
|Materials||Glass and steel|
Park51 (originally named Cordoba House) is a planned 13-story Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. The majority of the center will be open to the general public and its proponents have said the center will promote interfaith dialogue. Plans for the center include a Muslim prayer space which, due to its location two blocks from the World Trade Center site, has controversially been referred to as the "Ground Zero mosque", though numerous commentators argued that it was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero.
Sharif El-Gamal, the developer, controls 3 existing adjacent buildings on the site (43, 45-47 and 51 Park Place). El-Gamal owns 45-47 (which started the controversy) and 43 (which he acquired in December 2012). El-Gamal has a long term lease through 2071 from Con Edison on 51 Park Place on space that was formerly an electrical substation. In recent years 45-47 and 51 operated as a Burlington Coat Factory (which is no longer there).
It would replace an existing 1850s building of Italianate style of architecture that was being used as a Burlington Coat Factory before it was damaged in the September 11 attacks. The proposed multi-faith aspects of the design include a 500-seat auditorium, theater, a performing arts center, a fitness center, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a childcare area, a bookstore, a culinary school, an art studio, a food court, and a memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks. The prayer space for the Muslim community will accommodate 1,000–2,000 people.
In late September 2011, the project developer opened a 4,000-square-foot (370 m2) Islamic center in renovated space at the Park 51 location. He hopes to build the larger planned project within several years.
Plans to build then-named Cordoba House were reported in The New York Times in December 2009, at a location that was already in use for Muslim worship. Early response to the project was not pronounced, and one conservative commentator provided positive coverage. The plans were reviewed by the local community board in May 2010, at which time they attracted some national media attention. Protests were sparked by a campaign launched by conservative bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, founders of the group Stop Islamization of America, who dubbed the project the "Ground Zero mosque", and a national controversy ensued.
Some opponents have also said that the building itself would serve as a "victory memorial" to Islam. Supporters have said that arguments against the building are based on the false notion that Islam, rather than Islamic radicals, is responsible for the terrorist attack. The New York Times reported that Muslim religious facilities previously existed at the World Trade Center itself before the attacks. Opponents have also argued that the project should not be built because polls have shown that most Americans, including most residents of New York State and New York City (though not most residents of Manhattan), oppose it. Most Americans and residents of New York State do, however, believe the Park51 developers have a legal right to proceed with the project.
The project's organizers state that it is intended to be "a platform for multi-faith dialogue. It will strive to promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America, and globally," and have stated that it is modeled on the noted Manhattan Jewish Community Center, the 92nd Street Y. The project's sponsors explained that the original name of the center was meant to invoke 8th–11th century Córdoba, in Spain, which they call a model of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The proposal triggered an intense nationwide controversy, with opponents of the project objecting to its proximity to the site of the September 11 attacks, its scale, sources of funding, or expressing concern that the project's name was intended as a reference to the Islamic conquest of the Christian city of Córdoba. Supporters have appealed to the First Amendment as well as the opportunity for Muslims to demonstrate peaceful Islamic values and for Americans to reassert their commitment to tolerance and diversity.
Naming of the project
The project was originally called Cordoba House, then renamed Park51, in reference to the street address on Park Place. Later, the Imam leading the project introduced some ambiguity by again referring to the project as "Cordoba House". The Park51 website then clarified that Park51 is the community center, while Cordoba House is the "interfaith and religious component of the center".
Cordoba Initiative said the name "Cordoba House" was meant to invoke 8th–11th century Córdoba, Spain, which they called a model of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. According to The Economist, the name was chosen because Muslims, Jews and Christians created a center of learning in Córdoba together. The name was criticized; for example, Newt Gingrich said that it was "a deliberately insulting term" which symbolizes the Muslim conquerors' victory over Christian Spaniards, and noted that the Muslims had converted a Cordoba church into the third largest mosque in the world. Similarly, Raymond Ibrahim, a former associate director of the Middle East Forum, said the project and name were not "a gesture of peace and interfaith dialogue" but were "allusive of Islamic conquest and consolidation" and that Americans should realize that mosques are not "Muslim counterparts to Christian churches" but rather, "are symbols of domination and centers of radicalization". The opposition to Park51 believes that Islam builds mosques on "conquered territory" as symbols of "victory" and "conquest".
Park51 is often referred to as the "Ground Zero mosque". Since it is neither located directly on the former World Trade Center site, Ground Zero, nor primarily a mosque, some news media have advised against the use of this term. The Associated Press suggested several alternate terms including "mosque 2 blocks from WTC site", "Muslim (or Islamic) center near WTC site", "mosque near ground zero", and "mosque near WTC site". Cordoba Initiative says the building is not strictly a mosque. Anushay Hossain in The Huffington Post criticises the use of the name Ground Zero mosque, and says it is "Not a mosque but an Islamic Community Center". Jean Marbella in The Baltimore Sun says the building is closer to a YMCA center than a house of worship.
Site use 1858-2001
The stone-faced building, designed by Daniel Badger, was originally constructed for a shipping firm of a prominent New York shipping magnate. Its Italian palazzo style was a throwback to a prior time of European grandeur, and was intended to evoke images of economic might. The building is an example of the "store and loft" structures that were prevalent in the dry goods warehouse districts of Lower Manhattan.
The building was one of only a few stand-alone structures in southern Tribeca that were nominated – but never designated – as individual landmarks, during an effort in the 1980s to create a Tribeca historic district. In September 1989, the Commission had held public hearings and considered the building for landmark status, but it never acted on the matter, and the building was "calendared" ever since. The New York Post reported that city building records reflected that out of a group of 29 buildings, including 45–47 Park Place, that were proposed for historic landmark designation in 1989, 23 had been deemed landmarks and 6 (including 45–47) were pending as of August 2010. New York City has more than 11,000 landmarked buildings.
During the attacks, the then-five-story building at 45–47 Park Place, between West Broadway and Church Street, was severely damaged. When United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, part of the plane's landing gear, engine and fuselage came out the north side of the tower and crashed through the roof of 45–47 Park Place, and through two of its floors. The plane parts destroyed three floor beams, and severely compromised the building's internal structure. The damage was not immediately noticed during an exterior assessment. It was later discovered during an interior assessment. In April 2013, the New York Police Department announced that surveyors inspecting the building had discovered a 17-inch-wide piece, five foot long airplane part complete with Boeing identification number wedged in an 18-inch-wide alley between 51 Park and 50 Murray Street. Initially officials thought it was part of the landing gear but Boeing confirmed it was the trailing edge flap actuation support structure of an airplane flap from a Boeing 767. 767's hit both towers. A photograph of the piece initially showed a rope around it. Police said the rope was used by an officer who lassoed it to see the identification number. Boeing could not say which specific plane it was from.
Site use 2001-2009
Muslims had a presence in Lower Manhattan for many years prior to the September 11 attacks. At least two mosques existed near the World Trade Center, and several designated Muslim prayer rooms existed within the World Trade Center buildings.
The 45–47 Park Place building, located about two blocks (600 feet or 180 meters) north of the World Trade Center site, was owned by Stephen Pomerantz and his wife Kukiko Mitani and leased to the Burlington Coat Factory. For years, Mitani attempted to sell the building, at one point asking for $18 million. It lay abandoned until its purchase in July 2009. For several months thereafter, the building was used as an overflow prayer space for up to 450 Muslims, with services led by Feisal Abdul Rauf, an Imam based at the al-Farah mosque in nearby TriBeCa.
Purchase and investors
Soho Properties' Chairman and CEO, Sharif El-Gamal, initially planned to build a condominium complex at the site, but was convinced by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's idea for a community center with a prayer space. El-Gamal's partner is Nour Mousa, the nephew of Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League.
The investors in the transaction were the Cordoba Initiative, a tax-exempt foundation with assets of $20,000, and the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), also a non-profit organization. Rauf is founder, CEO, and Executive Director of Cordoba Initiative, and founder and CEO of ASMA, and his wife, Daisy Khan, is the ASMA Executive Director. In the Cordoba Initiative's first five years, from 2004–08, it raised less than $100,000. Both organizations are run out of the same New York office.
The two foundations proposed to use the property as the site for a $100 million community center modeled after NYC's Jewish Community Centers and YMCAs. They are working on the project with El-Gamal, their co-developer.
The 49–51 Park Place half of the "45–51" parcel is still owned by the utility Con Edison (Con Ed). Soho Properties paid an additional $700,000 to assume a $33,000-a-year lease with Con Ed, for its adjacent attached former sub-station. The plan is to build the facility on the site of the two buildings. The lease for 49–51 Park Place expires in 2071. The two buildings are connected internally, with common walls having been taken down. El-Gamal informed Con Ed in February 2010 that he wanted to exercise his purchase option on the lease. Con Ed is now conducting an appraisal to determine the property's value. Once the property has been valued, El-Gamal will have the option of accepting the price, which was reportedly estimated at $10–$20 million. El-Gamal said the cost "is not an issue". The sale would be reviewed by the New York Public Service Commission, where it might face a vote by a five-member board controlled by New York Governor Paterson.
The specific location of the planned facility, "where a piece of the wreckage fell", so close to the World Trade Center, was a primary selling point for the Muslims who bought the building. Rauf said it "sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11" and "We want to push back against the extremists."
While the media widely described the center as a mosque, and the protests were against the mosque, the Initiative's official blog portrayed it as a community center with prayer space, making comparisons to the YMCA or Jewish Community Center. The Initiative said that some services planned for Park51 such as the restaurant and performance center, disqualify it from being a mosque. Daisy Khan, Imam Rauf's wife and partner, in August 2010 also said:
We insist on calling it a prayer space and not a mosque, because you can use a prayer space for activities apart from prayer. You can't stop anyone who is a Muslim despite his religious ideology from entering the mosque and staying there. With a prayer space, we can control who gets to use it.
The official website for the facility had said it would include "a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community". By September 2010, the word mosque had been replaced with "prayer space". In an interview in July 2010, lead developer of the project Sharif el-Gamal had supported the inclusion of a mosque as needed by the New York Muslim community.
The Muslim prayer space is planned to occupy two floors of the 13 story building. Besides the prayer space, the Initiative's plan includes a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare services, art exhibitions, bookstore, culinary school, and a food court serving halal dishes.
El-Gamal said he wanted the building to be energy-efficient and transparent, most likely with a glass façade. The project envisions the demolition of two buildings at 45–47 Park Place and Broadway which were damaged on 9/11. They would be replaced by a glass and steel 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) structure with a new address, 45–51 Park Place. A number of commentators stated that the builders planned either the groundbreaking or opening date to coincide with anniversaries of the September 11 attacks. Khan said in a July 2010 conversation with Media Matters for America that such assertions were "absolutely false" and that the construction timeline had not been determined; furthermore, those making such assertions have no proof of their claims. However, in a May 2010 Associated Press interview Khan said that the Initiative may plan for groundbreaking to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
Khan said the project is intended to foster better relations between Islam and Americans. Explaining the choice of location, she said, "We decided we wanted to look at the legacy of 9/11 and do something positive." She added that her group represents moderate Muslims who want "to reverse the trend of extremism and the kind of ideology that the extremists are spreading". Pointing to the fact that ordinary Muslims have been killed by Muslim extremists all over the world, Khan also said about the mosque, "For us it is a symbol... that will give voice to the silent majority of Muslims who suffer at the hands of extremists. A center will show that Muslims will be part of rebuilding Lower Manhattan."
Community board advisory vote
On May 25, 2010, neighborhood authorities in a non-binding advisory vote backed part of the plans for Cordoba House to be built on the site. The endorsement related only to "the important community facilities [the project] will provide", and the resolution indicated that the board "takes no position regarding the religious aspects or any religious facilities associated with either the Cordoba Initiative or the Cordoba House Project". The board's chairwoman, Julie Menin, supported deletion of references to the building as a mosque and interfaith center that were in an earlier draft of the resolution, saying: "I personally was uncomfortable with the language that talked about the religious institution. I believe it's not the purview of a city agency to be weighing in on the siting of any religious institution, be it a mosque, synagogue, or church."
The vote by the Lower Manhattan Community Board 1 was 29-to-1, with 10 abstentions. Although the vote was not binding, the meeting was contentious. Some of the speakers supporting the project were Muslims who lost family members in the attacks, and were booed by protesters. Some non-Muslim relatives of 9/11 victims also spoke in support, but other family members objected to the project, claiming the location is insensitive.
Landmark status declined and litigation
As the controversy grew New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission agree to reconsider the 1980s landmark application which it had not acted on previously. On August 3, 2010, it voted 9–0 against granting landmark status and historic protection to the building. That cleared the way for it to be demolished, and the new Cordoba House to be built in its place.
The following day, Timothy Brown, a firefighter who survived 9/11, filed a suit in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan asking the court to nullify the Commission's decision. He praised 45–47 Park Place, quoting the Commission's own description of it as "a fine example of the Italian Renaissance-inspired palazzi" that flourished in the mid-19th century in the area. The suit was filed on his behalf by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest firm.
On July 10, 2011, Justice Paul G. Feinman of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed Brown's case, writing that the firefighter was "an individual with a strong interest in preservation of the building", but added that he lacked any special legal standing on its fate. Adam Leitman Bailey, the lawyer who represented the Islamic center's developer pro bono, called the decision "a victory for America" and said, "Despite the tempest of religious hatred, the judge flexed our Constitution's muscles enforcing the very bedrock of our democracy." Jack Lester, a lawyer for Brown, said, "We believe the brave men and women who risked their lives have standing to preserve the monuments and historic buildings at ground zero." 
On August 2, 2011, the New York Times reported that Sharif El-Gamal, the project's developer, is quietly proceeding with efforts to move Park51 forward, embracing a "slower, more deliberate and more realistic approach" than before. New Republic contributor Isaac Chotiner wrote that El-Gamal "is at least partially acquiescing" to the families of 9/11 victims who disapprove of the center being built near Ground Zero.
On September 21, 2011, Park51 was opened to the public as 4,000 square feet of renovated space in the Burlington Coat Factory building. The center's opening was without incident. Visitors were able to view 160 portraits of immigrant children living in New York during the exhibit called "NYChildren", and a carpeted prayer room is located in the lower level. The project's developer, Sharif El-Gamal, hopes that the new building can be completed within several years. Presently, Park51 is opening its doors to New Yorkers of all backgrounds for interfaith workshops, films and lectures.
Opponents of the Park51 project argued that it is "a mosque" and have that establishing a mosque "so close" to Ground Zero would be offensive since the hijackers in the September 11, 2001 attacks were Islamic terrorists.
Project supporters have argued that the Park51 building would not be visible from the World Trade Center site, that some victims and victims' families are in favor of the Park51 project, and that some victims were also Muslims.
Newsweek quotes a Taliban operative as explicitly connecting increased opposition to the mosque with increased support for the Taliban's cause. "By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor," the Taliban operative stated. "It's providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support."
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community does not directly oppose the building of a mosque near ground zero but says that the sentiments of non-Muslims should not be unduly hurt. They state that there are other places where mosques can be built and they do not see why that particular location has been chosen.
Some relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks said they found the proposal offensive because the perpetrators who committed the attacks did so in the name of Islam. A group of victims' relatives, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, called the proposal "a gross insult to the memory of those who were killed on that terrible day".
A number of American politicians spoke out against the Park51 project, such as John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney. Former House Speaker Republican Newt Gingrich said: "It's not about religion and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive." Commenting on the project's initial proposed name, he wrote:
"Cordoba House" is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors, who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world's third-largest mosque complex... every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani called it a "desecration; Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor ... Let's have some respect for who died there and why they died there.")
Paul Sipos, a member of NYC Community Board 1, said:
If the Japanese decided to open a cultural center across from Pearl Harbor, that would be insensitive. If the Germans opened a Bach choral society across from Auschwitz, even after all these years, that would be an insensitive setting. I have absolutely nothing against Islam. I just think: Why there?
Democratic Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman indicated that he felt the project should be halted, pending further evaluation of its impact on the families and friends of 9/11 victims, project's sponsors' intentions, and their sources of funding.
Senate Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada said "it is time to bring people together, not a time for polarization and I think it would be better off for everyone if it were built somewhere else." Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Reid earlier said, "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion... Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else." 
More than 20,000 people signed an online petition for the Committee to Stop the Ground Zero Mosque, and unsuccessfully lobbied the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to give the location landmark status, which would have added a major hurdle to construction.
Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, called for transparency in the funding of the project, suggesting foreign sources could imply an ulterior agenda. Reza Aslan said that it would be acceptable to demand that mosques be transparent about funding if the same was also demanded of a Catholic church or a Jewish temple.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Kuwaiti-American Sufi Muslim, initially the chief proponent of the project until he was replaced in January 2011, said "If I knew this would happen, this would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn't have done it. My life has been devoted to peacemaking."
Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, board members of the Muslim Canadian Congress, opposed the construction of the mosque as did Rima Fakih, the first Muslim-American crowned Miss USA as Miss USA 2010, who said that construction of the mosque was insensitive to families of 9/11 victims as did
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a U.S. Jewish civil rights group that had spoken out against anti-Muslim bigotry, denounced what it saw as bigoted attacks on the mosque. Its head opined that some of those who oppose the mosque are "bigots", and that the plan's proponents may have every right to build the mosque at that location. Nevertheless, the group recommended selecting a different location, and appealed to the builders to consider the sensitivities of the victims' families, saying that building the mosque at that site would unnecessarily cause more pain for families of some victims of 9/11. As a consequence of their statement Fareed Zakaria the winner of the ADL's 2005 Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize has returned the prize and the prize money.
A Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll of New York State residents released August 31, 2010 found a 54–40 percent majority of voters agreeing "that because of American freedom of religion, Muslims have the right to build the mosque near Ground Zero".
Some relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks expressed support for the project. Colleen Kelley, who lost her brother William on 9/11, says, the "irony in the debate over the section of the building that would house a mosque is that one might assume that God (the same God to Jews-Christians-Muslims) would be pleased with any type of effort that involves prayer and service to others."
Marvin Bethea, a former EMS worker who was forced to retire in 2004 because of breathing problems caused by working at the 9/11 site, believes racism is a factor in the controversy, He said "even though my life has changed, I don't hate the Muslims. Especially being a black man, I know what it's like to be discriminated against. I've lived with that."
The anti-war group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, released a statement in support of the center, saying "we believe that welcoming the Center, which is intended to promote interfaith tolerance and respect, is consistent with fundamental American values of freedom and justice for all," adding it will be "an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance, and overt acts of racism and that we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent".
President Barack Obama acknowledged the right of Muslims to build the Islamic center. Obama said, "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly endorsed the project, saying that Ground Zero was a "very appropriate place" for a mosque, because it "tells the world" that the U.S. has freedom of religion for everyone. Responding to opposition, he said:
The government should never, never be in the business of telling people how they should pray, or where they can pray. We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here, and praying the way they want to pray.
Additional New York politicians supported the proposal. They included Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer ("I'll do everything I can to make sure this mosque does get opened"), U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler ("the government has no business deciding"), NY State Senator Daniel Squadron, NYC Comptroller John Liu, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura gave his support to Park51, arguing that the First Amendment allows for a mosque to be built near Ground Zero. Ventura also argued that denying the right for a mosque to be built near Ground Zero would be similar to removing churches from Oklahoma City, where the Oklahoma City bombing occurred (the deadliest act of terrorism in the United States prior to 9/11), if Timothy McVeigh, the man who perpetrated the attack, was a Christian.
Orrin Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah, voiced support of the project on religious freedom grounds. Hatch is a Mormon and cited an instance where a neighborhood tried to prevent a Mormon temple from being built.
Republican Congressman Ron Paul also supported the rights of Muslims to build the mosque. Moreover, he criticizes those who blame Islam alone for the September 11 attacks, rather than a small fanatical group of terrorists. Paul said that the criticism of this project is based on hate and Islamaphobia.
Former US President Bill Clinton also supported Park51, after noting that many Muslims were also killed on September 11. He suggested that the developers could have avoided controversy if they dedicated the center to the Muslim victims of the attacks.
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